Psychology & Psychotherapy the Emotions of Chords Research Article

Willimek and Willimek, J Psychol Psychother 2014, 4:2
Psychology & Psychotherapy
Why do Minor Chords Sound Sad? The Theory of Musical Equilibration and
the Emotions of Chords
Daniela Willimek1* and Bernd Willimek2
Karlsruhe University of Music, Germany
German Society for Music Psychology, Germany
One of the most exciting areas in the field of musicology is attaining solid new insights into the correlation
between music and emotions. The Theory of Musical Equilibration now presents a new perspective on this topic. The
Theory states that music itself cannot convey emotions, which is to say it is no more effective than other approach to
expressing feelings. Instead, music communicates processes of the will which the listener identifies with, and relating
to these processes gives music its emotional content.
“Music and Emotions -Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration” is the name of the English version of
the German book entitled Musik und Emotionen-Studien zur Strebetendenz Theorie. Authors Daniela and Bernd
Willimek present their theory and demonstrate its validity using examples from musical literature and test results. The
book was translated from the German by Laura Russell.
The first part of the book explains the theory before exploring how it can be interpreted in terms of individual
chords and harmonic progressions. A major chord, for example, is something we generally identify with the message,
“I want to!” whereas a minor chord conveys the desire, “No more!” The volume at which a minor chord is played
determines whether it is perceived as sorrow or anger. Furthermore, the authors discuss issues such as why a
diminished chord is well-suited as the score for film scenes involving fear, or how an augmented chord can convey
amazement and astonishment.
In the second part of the book, there is a discussion of test results which show a strong correlation in the way
people perceive chords from an emotional standpoint. The Basic Test and the Rocky Test link harmonic sequences
to scenes from a fairy tale and to emotional concepts, respectively. The outcome of these tests revealed the musical
preferences of over 2000 children and adolescents (including members of the famous Viennese Boys’ Choir) across
four continents. Similar tests for use in music therapy are currently being prepared.
Keywords: Music; Emotions; Chords
Despite the fact that there is already a rich history of publications
exploring the topic of music and emotions, it is new for there to be
insights into this field which are solidly rooted in music theory.
This book describes two complementary studies: one examines
the correlation between chords and words with emotional meanings,
and the second explores the link between musical selections and
emotionally charged scenes from fairy tales. A total of over 2000
volunteers (including members of the world-famous Viennese Boys’
Choir) on four continents took part in these studies.
The volunteers expressed their preferences by selecting specific
musical pieces which they felt best matched a particular emotional
content. A significantly high correlation was seen among their
preferences: 86% chose the same examples, more or less independently
of their age, sex or any previous musical training. The test results
were also compared with similar examples found in the repertoire of
Romantic-era lieder and pop music; this confirmed the correlation
between the emotional content of the respective lyrics and the harmonic
device the composer chose.
All of the research discussed in this book is explained in detail and
illustrated by means of the sheet music included in the text.
The inspiration and the guideline in creating and selecting the
musical pieces was Willimek’s Strebetendenz-Theorie, the Theory
of Musical Equilibration. This theory states that music itself does
not convey emotions: instead, it expresses processes of will that
the listener can identify with. It is not until the identification takes
J Psychol Psychother
ISSN: 2161-0487 JPPT, an open access journal
place that these processes of will take on an emotional character.
This idea is demonstrated using a variety of different chords and
harmonic structures. To provide one example, a minor chord does not
communicate any sorrow in and of itself: instead, it inspires the listener
to identify with the message, “No more.” The dynamics at which the
chord is played communicate the message as something which is
perceived as sad (when played piano) or angry (when played forte).
This book makes direct references to musical material as it sets
forth its arguments. The Theory is especially compelling because of the
way it offers a precise analytical description of the emotional effects of
musical harmonies and other compositional parameters [1].
1. Daniela Willimek, Bernd Willimek (2011) Music and Emotions-Research on the
Theory of Musical Equilibration.
*Corresponding author: Daniela Willimek, Karlsruhe University of Music,
Reuchlinstrasse 32, 75015 Bretten, Germany, Tel: ++49-7252-975542;E - m a i l :
[email protected]
Received February 27, 2014; Accepted March 18, 2014; Published April 03,
Citation: Willimek D, Willimek B (2014) Why do Minor Chords Sound Sad? The
Theory of Musical Equilibration and the Emotions of Chords. J Psychol Psychother
4: 139. doi: 10.4172/2161-0487.1000139
Copyright: © 2014 RWillimek D, et al. This is an open-access article distributed
under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original author and source are credited.
Volume 4 • Issue 2 • 1000139
Citation: Willimek D, Willimek B (2014) Why do Minor Chords Sound Sad? The Theory of Musical Equilibration and the Emotions of Chords. J Psychol
Psychother 4: 139. doi: 10.4172/2161-0487.1000139
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